Education is the most effective peace-building institution in the land. Our schools serve as our Ministry of Peace.”
- Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
Roots of Empathy is delivered in school classrooms during regular school hours. The support of schools is fundamental to the success of the program. The program is offered to elementary school children from Kindergarten to Grade 8, using a specialized curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, Grades 4-6, and Grades 7-8.
Empathy is one of the characteristics of successful learners. According to one researcher (B.F. Jones, 1990) "successful students often recognize that much of their success involves their ability to communicate with others … they are also able to view themselves and the world through the eyes of others. This means … examining beliefs and circumstances of others, keeping in mind the goal of enhanced understanding and appreciation. Successful students value sharing experiences with persons of different backgrounds as enriching their lives."
It is often overlooked that in 85% of school bullying episodes (Pepler & Craig, 1995) there are onlookers and bystanders. These witnesses, our children, are being adversely affected. Unlike other programs that address bullying by targeting the victim or bully, Roots of Empathy works universally with the whole class. The program teaches perspective taking skills which enable all students to gain insight into how others feel and develop a sense of social responsibility for each other. In the Roots of Empathy classroom, children are empowered to challenge cruelty whether it is in the form of bullying or meanness.
For many children recess is a time of fear. In her Roots of Empathy class, Fanstina recalled a time when she was afraid and was not helped. The powerful image this little girl drew is reminiscent of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. Roots of Empathy creates safe and caring schools where every child feels empowered to challenge cruelty and to help a friend in trouble.
For the long-term success of the program, it is important that the School Board be a strong and committed partner in the implementation of the Roots of Empathy program.
The involvement and support of the principal and classroom teacher are also key. The principal is frequently the person who sets the program in motion, although it may have been a teacher or parent who introduced the program to the school. The principal helps to ensure support for the program and plan its effective rollout in the school. Principals can champion the program, share its richness and make it a whole-school venture. Principals can share information about the program with community groups, other schools and school boards.
While the Roots of Empathy Instructor is responsible for preparing and delivering the lesson during the ROE visit, the classroom teacher is an active participant in the program. Teachers who see the need for the program, who have worked in consultation with the principal, the instructor and other school staff, and who are proactive, will see the program unfold most effectively.
Source: Pepler, D.J., & Craig, W. (1995). A peek behind the fence: Naturalistic observations of aggressive children with remote audiovisual recording. Developmental Psychology, 3, 548-553.